Roof-Racks have evolved from utilitarian galvanised steel frames with wooden slats to alloy silver, grey or black hammer-tone powder coating with matching slats. They look better, are lighter and more durable to corrosion. although alloy racks are lighter they are not as strong as steel and overloading an alloy roof-rack will cause failure long before a similar load would damage a steel rack. I have fitted roof racks to all ten 4x4s I have owned and so roof racks have become a part of my everyday life. I have had good ones, troublesome ones, noisy ones and ones that are just right. What follows are some insight into roof-racks which will hopefully enable you to select one right for your purposes.
One of the most important elements of roof-rack design are the feet. If the feet are too narrow it will cut through the vehicle’s roof gutters. With vehicles designed to twist, such as Land Rover Defenders, full-length feet can damage the roof. Despite the claims by rack manufacturers, this happens! If full-length feet are fitted, the rack must be designed to twist with the vehicle.
Particularly important are the feet fitted to gutter-less roofs. More and more vehicles are being produced with gutter-less roofs and this, at first, posed a problem for rack designers. Ask your dealer to show you how the rack will be mounted and make sure the mount a plate inside the roof onto the part of the roof designed by the vehicle manufacturer for the mounting of a rack. On some vehicles this means removing the interior roof lining, which is time consuming and while not the easy way, the only way. Some rack makers still use Riv-Nuts (a nut that is fixed in position like a blind or pop rivet), although they have been proved many times not to be strong enough!
There are several rack makers in South Africa. Outback and Front Runner are the two biggies. There are smaller manufacturers like Hannibal, Big Country and a few others, whose racks are less aesthetically-pleasing but sometimes stronger than both Outback and Front Runner’s. Britain has Predator and Patriot, two very high quality products. The bigger companies have been able to spend money on extrusions which in some ways have given them an advantage with their designs and has enabled them to create system designs, that means that clamps for Jerry cans, hi-lift jacks and spades can simply be bolted on. These systems are convenient and work well. But have they done this at the expense of strength? Sometimes I think so.
Weight and load limits
Vehicle manufacturers sometimes supply a recommended maximum weight permitted on the roof. This figure is based on two things: the strength of the roof supports and the liability of the suspension to keep the vehicle on its wheels in the event of a violent swerve. Once a raised suspension is fitted to a vehicle, the maximum permissible roof load IS REDUCED, not increased as some claim. Did you know that the maximum permissible roof load on a Land Rover Defender is just 75kgs? Some claim it is 150kgs. I am not sure which is correct, but given the Defender’s handling, I reckon it’s 75kgs. Most vehicles are around 100-150kgs. Vehicles with the highest roof loading specs of 200 kgs are Mercedes G-wagen, Toyota Land Cruiser 70 wagon and Nissan Safari. The result of overloading a roof rack begin with a cracked windscreen, maybe broken springs, bad handling due to too much weight on the front springs or even complete loss of vehicle control resulting in injury or death. An overloaded roof-rack has the potential to kill you! Mounts on gutterless racks are not as strong as those fitted to gutters, so operators of vehicles with gutterless roof-racks should compensate even more, keeping heavy items inside the vehicle. Roof-racks that extend beyond the windscreen are a recipe for disaster. The front roof pillars are weakest, so are the front springs. This kind of rack also seems to cause instability at speed.
Racks-Responsibility for breakages
If any rack maker ever claims that they have never had a failure of one of their racks, I believe they are lying. Potential law suites prevent me divulging details but one South African manufacturer makes this claim, adding that the feet they supply are,’not part of the rack’, even though they are sold with, supplied by and made in the same factory as the rack. When a breakage occurs, their standard response is, the client overloaded it’. Shop around because not all racks or add-on fittings are made alike.
Bush or bull bars are now commonplace on vehicles from minibus taxis to four-wheelers. They are made of aluminum, mild steel or stainless tubing are fitted either because the driver wants genuine protection from the possibility of hitting an animal at speed or to look macho around town. Either way, they are useful items when it comes to filling winches, spotlights and grille guards. In the past it was fashionable to fit overly heavy steel wrap-around tubes designed by frustrated civil engineers who, during their during their working lives always wanted to build suspension bridges. and most bull-bars sold are lighter and look better too.
Here are some points to consider when selecting a bull-bar:
- Is your vehicle equipped with airbags? If so, only an air-bag compatible bull-bar is acceptable. Non-approved bull-bars may prevent correct deployment of an air bag.
- Bull-bars designed to ward off serious impact are broad, tall and lead forward, causing whatever it meets to be pushed downwards, protecting the windscreen and passengers. this type of bull bar is not necessarily made from very large diameter piping-the strength of its design is its heavy mounting.
- Check that the design does not affect the vehicles approach angle.
- should the upper bar of a bull bar be higher than the bonnet, light from the headlight will strike the bar and shine back at the driver. This can be very annoying.
- If you intend to fit a winch at a later date select a bull bar with an integral winch mount. Many cannot be retrofitted with a winch!
- Take a close look at the mounting points- these are going to absorb any impact, and not the tubing. Thick heavy mounts and light mounts can make things worse- if the steel piping has no ‘give’ or the mounts are weak, a light impact at one end of the bar can push it back along its entire length, and damage the bodywork on the other side of the vehicle. Wrap-around bars are more prone to this.
- Painted bull-bars require periodic repainting and look cheap.
- Alloy A-bars are light and protect the radiator and nothing else. they make good mounts for lights.
- Brand new aluminium bull-bars look dull over time.
- Powder coating is corrosion and scratch resistant and surfaces also look good.
Running boards/Rock sliders
Side-steps are often the firsts items to get damaged on an off-road vehicle. there are two schools of thought: most after market side-steps, unless designed by people who actually go off road, are a hindrance to off-road driving because they lower the clearance. Some are so badly designed that they jut out from the vehicles side, smearing trousers with mud or dust and do not assist access to any degree. The other thought is that they are damaged first, protecting the more valuable bodywork. I guess both are good points. Rock sliders are purposely designed side steps that replace running boards. Not only do they not get easily damaged, they are (or should be) strong enough to enable the vehicle’s weight to rest on them.
Bumpers and Towing Equipment
Tow-bars, bull bars and bumpers frequently adversely affect the vehicle’s ability to traverse uneven ground. Fitment centres, enthusiasts and while less common these days, the manufacturers themselves make this mistake. keeping all such modifications as close to the bodywork and as high as possible to prevent degrading the departure and approach angles. when de-bogging a vehicle, use the vehicle’s towing eyes to attach cables and ropes in preference to apparatus which is not designed to withstand the loads that can be created by snatch straps or winches.
To make launching a boat easier, fit towing apparatus to the front of your vehicle. Positioning the tow-bar off-center to the left. This will allow the driver to see alongside the trailer which will improve directional control. Do not fit the tow bar close to the ground because if it is low, the stern of the boat will be higher, which means the vehicle will have to push the trailer further and the stern lower. in other words, the boat will float off the trailer in shallower water. And, a low-slung front towing apparatus gets in the way, in a big way, off-road.
Original equipment headlights are good for a lot of conditions and masters of none. If you intend to travel at night in the Third World where dogs, chickens, cattle and goats are a constant danger, fit good quality auxiliary lighting to your vehicle.
Driving lights supplement the vehicle’s own lighting, giving moderately broad spread illuminating the road sides and providing penetration ahead.
Fog lamps are not simply driving lights with an amber filter. What is crucial about a fog light is its spread, not its colour. Genuine fog lamps throw a very broad flat beam that stays low. This prevents glare as the light bounces off the airborne particles and is thrown back into the face of the driver. Amber permits further penetration through the fog, but its primary function is not to increase the drivers visibility but to make the vehicle more visible to others.
Long range / spot lamps
Long range lights penetrate ahead, the range of a typical quartz-halogen light being three kilometres. specialist lighting such as the metal halide 900 000 candle-power units made by KC-hilites are rated at over 18 kilometres. Long range lights are characterised by a prism-less lens. My own light are KC, and after using Cibies for years, thinking that they were cutting edge. I discovered that they under perform both IPF and KC by fair margin. LED light bars are a subject all their own, and I do not attempt to be an expert.
Metal halide technology
Metal halide is technology where a special bulb runs at very high voltage. A ballast powers each lamp and these lamps throw light brighter and whiter than than all the rest. there is a short delay as the system charges itself when switching on ,which with the newer systems is not more than a few seconds. They are pricey and systems that convert halogen or xenon lamps to metal halide are available. This is a more economical way of getting the benefits of the extreme brightness of metal-halide. These are being reintroduced by some as technology that surpases LED. I just can’t see it, and its probably an attempt to revive a flagging product line.
Quartz halogen became standard equipment in most motor vehicles by the end of the seventies, before which incandescent sealed beams were used. Normal wattage ratings range from 50/65 (50 watts dim/ 65 watts high beam) to 100/150. The difference in efficiency between these two extremes is vast and if you are dissatisfied with your vehicle’s lights, simply changing the bulb rating may be an economical and effective answer. If you do this make sure that the vehicle’s relay and switches can cope with the extra current, otherwise expensive burnout will occur.
Quartz LED is without doubt one day going to replace most of the light types mentioned above. LED’s only limitation seems to be heat,. for as fast as the developers manage to dissipate the heat, so LED lights get brighter and brighter. They use a fraction of the current of all the others, and are cheaper to make, and the ‘bulbs’ have an extremely long working lifespan.
Sealed beams are waterproof and very robust. Incandescent sealed beams are not as white as quartz-halogen and their other disadvantage is that when the filament fails or the lens is damaged, the entire reflector and lens units must be replaced. As a general rule these are no longer fitted to new vehicles.
Fitting auxiliary lights
Auxiliary driving lights must be fitted in conjunction with a relay directly linked to the high/low beam switch, so that they automatically switch off when the head lamps are switched to low beam. Poor performance and unreliability can be avoided with quality connectors and relays and multi-core copper wire with a core diameter of over 3mm.
light shields protect against flying stones and bushes. White ones that clip over lamps are a pain. Why, for decades have light makers made them white, so they have to be removed for the lights to be used? it seems so obvious that clear ones will do the job just as well. however, its important that the light guards can be removed easily for cleaning. hinged steel mesh guards are a good alternative but broad-spread slats are not effective against flying stones.
Rear flood lamps
It is also a good idea to have a small floodlight permanently attached to the rear of the vehicle.
Rear lighting is really useful when you:
- Arrive late at a camp site.
- Hitch up or unhitch a trailer in the dark.
- Perform a tricky reverse maneuver.
- undertake repairs to a second vehicle.
- In addition a 12-volt fluorescent tube with a long cable is ideal for working on a vehicle thanks to the broad, even spread of light.
Easily fitted to most 4x4s, these are the best way of increasing vehicle range in a safe, odor free way. But, some materi< als used in the construction of fuel tanks, even by reputable safari equipment
Stainless steel is brittle and is not the ideal material with which to build any tank, fuel or water, that is bolted to the chassis, Because every chassis is designed to flex, any tank bolted to it will flex to a degree. If it does not, it will damage the the chassis, if stainless steel flexes, it tends to crack! Don’t the makers of these tanks know this? The position of tanks will vary from vehicle to vehicle. possible locations are under the front wings, under the seats, in the loading bay as far forward as possible (pick-ups), headers above the existing tank, alongside the chassis rails between chassis and outer body near the doors and on the floor of the loading area. Never install a fuel tank in front of the engine-spillage or leakage can cause a disastrous fire. Switching from one tank to another can be made using either electronic solenoid valves or taps, the former being more expensive, or individual fuel pumps. Be aware that electric diesel pumps are notoriously unreliable. It is important to use proper fuel hose when fitting tanks as ordinary hose will soon become brittle and crack. To my horror I have seen ‘component’ 4×4 equipment fitters use ordinary plastic water piping in fuel tank installation. It lasts about a year before breaking up.Industrial hose suppliers sell fuel hose considerably cheaper than auto spares retailers.
Never Use ordinary plastic containers to carry fuel, as they are unreliable and after time the plastic can become brittle and slightly porous, causing fuel to seep out and create a fire risk. Bumping and jolting over rough terrain stresses plasic containers carrying liquid, and the risk of breakage when filled with fuel cannot be over-stressed. Steel jerrycans are therefore advised. When purchasing Jerry cans look closely at the seal clamp. Some cheap types leak and become a never ending frustration , so spend a little more and get good ones. Ex-Army Jerrycans, if in good condition, are cheap and can be repainted. (I advise not crossing the border if they are painted military drab. Diesel is less hazardous to transport than petrol, but if you are carrying diesel in Jerrycans once used for petrol, remember that as little as 2% mix will render it as volatile as pure petrol, so empty the cans completely.
Water tanks can be fitted to your vehicle by most safari vehicle supply workshops or can be installed by anyone with some DIY ability and welding skills. Water tanks must be very strong so they don’t crack under vibrations and flexing created when a vehicle moves over rough ground and corrugations. The selection of a position in which to fit a water tank will depend on your particular vehicle. The same positions recommended for fitting additional fuel tanks apply to water tanks. However, while fuel should never be carried in front of the engine because of the fire risk, water carried here aids weight distribution and is safe. however, if a large quantity of water is carried in front, it is advisable to strengthen the front springs. Tanks under the seat in Land Rovers, a position often used to fit fuel tanks, tend to get quite hot and make the water less pleasant to drink, but convenient for washing dishes. The tunnel behind the rear wheel arches in Land Rovers is an ideal position to fit a tank. For easy access, the tap can protrude out of the back of the vehicle and in this position the water can remain delightfully cool. In pickups, an obvious position is inside the loading bay as far forward as possible. Carrying water on the roof is not advised for a number of reasons. the tanks get warm, require some effort to fill if a running hose pipe is not available and severely compromise a vehicle’s center of gravity. Tanks fitted in the load bay of station-wagons can be semi-permanent with a tap fitted.
Consideration when piping from water tanks:
Secure all exterior water taps with small Padlocks to prevent theft.
I suggest wrapping rubber bands around the locks to prevent them being damaged.
By attaching a tyre valve to the top of a tank and pumping in air, the pressure will force water out of the pipe. Beware of over-pumping or you may split the tank.